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Vauxhall Meriva 1.4T SE

Click to view picture gallery“The relatively new and larger
  Vauxhall Meriva compact MPV
  launched last June is now ready
  for ‘11
plate March sales —
and it’s now also covered by
s controversial 100,000-
  mile Lifetime Warranty

CONTROVERSIAL BECAUSE 'LIFETIME' means the lifetime duration of ownership by the first buyer of the vehicle. So not as generous as the title suggests because Britain's motorists tend to change cars on average every three years.

However, that hasn't stopped orders for the Meriva outstripping supply. The UK is Europe's best selling market for the Meriva — we family Brits love it and just under 10,000 have been sold here since its debut last year.

The Meriva was one of the new models I tried only for a few hours at its press launch last year and it was one of the very few models I had my doubts about as to the public acceptance of its — at the time — revolutionary design.

But time has proved that Vauxhall has a winner. The doubt came about by its forward-opening, rear-hinged rear side doors. True, this is not a totally new function Rolls-Royce, London black cabs, the Mazda RX-8 and the MINI Clubman estate all have similar rear side door layouts so the safety related Homologation and Type Approval precedent had already been set. But the Meriva was the first volume selling family car to have these types of doors.

Its forward-opening,
rear-hinged rear
side doors are not a
totally new function — Rolls-Royces, London
black cabs, the Mazda
RX-8 and the MINI
Clubman estate all have
similar rear side door
Recently the Meriva range received two additions to its engine line-up both diesel units. One was the 1.3 CDTi ecoFlex 95PS, the lowest emissions model in the range with a CO2 figure of 119g/km. The second was the most powerful diesel engine in the range, the 130PS 1.7 CDTi.

But with diesel fuel now costing considerably more than petrol (and likely to keep on increasing), retail customers are shifting their thoughts to petrol powerplants.

The Meriva range adequately covers that requirement as well, with new-generation 1.4-litre variable valve timing, 16V units ranging in power outputs from 100PS (normally aspirated) or 120 and 140PS turbocharged engines. Specification and equipment levels are Expression, S, Excite, Exclusiv and SE. Prices of the entire range vary from a modest 12,995 to a whopping 21,730.

My longer re-test of the Meriva was in the 1.4T 138bhp (140PS) Turbo petrol with SE spec priced at a steep 19,380. This is the model that will undoubtedly put fun driving back into a five-seater family compact people carrier. Due to the new direct injection and turbocharged technology for small capacity petrol engines, this four-cylinder unit not only has power but excellent torque (148lb ft from just 1,850rpm) so it's very flexible and responsive to drive in fact, just like a modern diesel!

Coupled with a slick, six-speed manual gearbox, it's a really good combination to drive in a sporting manner or to dawdle along at congested road speeds. The high torque makes light work of the tall sixth gear ratio and the 1.4T injects the opportunity to have driving fun at the appropriate time in what is undeniably functional family transport. On the road it felt very predictable, safe and, thankfully for most users, comfortable.

Officially, the Combined Cycle fuel consumption is 42.2mpg but my test drive over all types of roads and conditions was 34mpg; not brilliant when compared to other modern petrol units of 1.4 or 1.6 litres. The CO2 emissions are 156g/km, so the road tax is a reasonable 155 a year. That noted, the MINI Cooper S 1.6 petrol unit used widely in their ranges is more powerful, generally better for fuel economy and cleaner.

The Meriva's styling follows the 'new way forward' for Vauxhall and mirrors the Astra and Insignia families as well as the upcoming revised Corsa models. The FlexDoors system, with rear-hinged rear passenger doors, is innovative, allowing easier access to fasten children into their seats. It is also helpful for older passengers getting in and out as they can 'back' into the seats and then get out with ease in a forward direction. All four of the side doors open wide to 90 degrees, again helping ease of entry and exit.

The versatile seating
allows for a minimum
load space of 400 litres
through the tall
rear tailgate up to
a huge, for the overall
size of the car,
1,500 litres
The downside is that the extra opening angle is not much use in the typical side-by-side parking found in most car parks as the spaces are so narrow that the doors cannot be fully opened. The same applies to single domestic garages. For kerbside parking or on driveways, the wide opening feature does work well.

Vauxhall's FlexSpace seating combinations of rear seats up or down is very easy and light to use and the sliding rear seats are suitable for two adults or three children. The versatile seating allows for a minimum load space of 400 litres through the tall rear tailgate up to a huge, for the overall size of the car, 1,500 litres.

The SE equipment level of my test car had a very comprehensive specification but the next level down, Exclusiv, will be the most popular. For the record, the top of the range SE versions include such items as a quality sound system with Aux-in and USB connections, electronic parking brake (annoying to use), electrically-operated and heated door mirrors, electric front windows, a full array of airbags and other safety related items, FlexRail centre storage system, air conditioning, cruise control, panoramic fixed full glass roof with power sunblind, trip computer, alloy wheels, fog lights and lots of storage compartments.

For? Compact and clever midsized five-seater MPV, drives well, safe and predictable handling, comfortable, new Vauxhall family styling.

Against? High price of some versions (my test car's SatNav, front and rear parking sensors, larger 18-inch alloys, hill start assist and tyre pressure monitoring added an extra 2K to the purchase cost), wide opening doors usefulness limited in car parks, not the most fuel/CO2 efficient modern engines available today. However, in all but price, the Meriva's definitely a family-friendly package. David Miles

Vauxhall Meriva 1.4T SE
| 19,380
Maximum speed: 122mph | 0-62mph: 10.3 seconds | Overall Test MPG: 34mpg
Power: 138bhp | Torque: 148lb ft | CO2 156g/km